Review: Pursued (1947)
Funny story. I made plans to see Raoul Walsh’s 1947 psychological western Pursued with a friend a month in advance. For some reason, I wrote only Pursued! on the date box in question, leading to a one weird day where I wondered – Am I being pursued? Am I pursuing someone? Should I be worried? Turns out my calendar blunder created the perfect frame of mind for seeing this movie.
In Pursued, Robert Mitchum plays Jeb. a man haunted by the foggy memories of his past when he saw his entire family murdered. He remembers something bad happened, but just not quite what. As a child Jeb is saved by Mrs. Callum (Judith Anderson) and raised alongside her own children Thor (Teresa Wright) and Adam (John Rodney). To complicate matters, Jeb needs to figure out not only what happened by why Grant Callum (Dean Jagger), Mrs. Callum’s brother-in-law, wants to murder him.
And Grant really really wants to murder him. He tries to shoot Jeb when he’s 11 years old but kills his colt instead. He wages a decades long campaign to turn everyone against Jeb, including is adoptive brother Adam. When he succeeds, Jeb shoots Adam in self defense thus losing the love of his stand-in mother and of his sister-turned-girlfriend. As Jeb struggles and wonders about all of this, the audience does too – we’re privy to only one detail about his past, a haunting, surreal flashback image of a pair of spurred cowboy boots dancing a little jig.
Pursued is a departure of director Raoul Walsh. Best know for his taut filmmaking and handling of action, Pursued is far more moody and psychological than other Walsh films. While the movie is ostensibly a western, the dusty frontier town setting is incidental to the internal landscape of these characters. It is extremely well done… but for one thing.
Throughout Pursued, much is made of Jeb’s family and “what they did.” We’re repeatedly exposed to warnings about the evil, bad man Jeb will grow up to be. Because the audience is left in the dark about these familial crimes til the last five minutes, the build up is excruciating. And as the violence escalates, something becomes clear roughly a quarter of the way through the movie – whatever horrible thing Jeb’s dad did, it won’t be bad enough to support the decades long, cross generational vendetta. This is proven to be an accurate assessment when the offense is finally revealed.
Despite that, Pursued is a little gem. It’s worth the price of admission for those bizarre dancing boots alone. Robert Mitchum gives a fine, unflappable performance, and even the Skipper turns up as his cohort Jake Dingle (Alan Hale). Not to mention, Mitchum is smoking hot, even with a noose around his neck.
I saw Pursued as part of TIFF’s Classic Hollywood series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, but you can purchase purchase Pursued on dvd or Blu-ray.
Gallery of Images from Pursued